COSTA MESA — Councilwoman Wendy Leece wants her peers to join her in reducing the City Council’s salaries and benefits.
The largely symbolic gesture proposed for Tuesday’s council meeting would net little in savings, but Leece hopes it will show the city’s workforce that the council is willing to do its part to cut costs.
“I think it’s time in the spirit of asking our employees to take reductions and layoffs that we have this discussion,” Leece said.
The savings are minimal in a $114 million budget: even a 25% cut to council members’ salaries and health benefits would save about $37,500 a year. Council members are paid $904 and receive $1,595 in health benefits, or its cash equivalent a month.
Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer already declines his health benefits or their cash equivalent.
Leece is pushing for the council’s second pay cut in two years. In 2009, the board cut their pay and benefits 5% when the employee groups agreed to pay cuts to help balance the budget. Costa Mesa’s compensation for its council is in the middle compared to other Orange County cities and lower than Newport Beach, Irvine and Santa Ana.
If the City Council votes to approve a cut in compensation, an ordinance could be drafted for a first reading by Sept. 6. Any cut in the council’s pay and benefits would take effect after the most recent election, or after the 2012 general election, in this case.
Leece said the cuts would carry weight symbolically. The employee groups and city leaders have been bumping heads since a majority of the council in March elected to outsource more than 40% of the workforce to cut pension costs.
“I think it’s a fair thing, a reasonable request by our residents to ask us to make salary reductions to put that money somewhere else,” Leece said.
Others on the council, such as Righeimer and Councilman Steve Mensinger, want the employees to move first.
“I’m open to taking a one-for-one cut,” Mensinger said."The reality is, council is a full-time job with part-time benefits. I’ll take an equivalent cut to whatever an employee will take.”
“It’s just grandstanding,” Righeimer said. “If [the employees] want to open up their contract, I’d be glad to open up our agreement.”
The city won’t negotiate unless employees agree to contribute to their pensions indefinitely. Employees won’t negotiate unless the layoff notices already distributed are rescinded.
“To say, ‘Well, if the employees want to take a reduction than we will also,’ that’s not even apples to apples,” Leece said. “They have taken a reduction. They’re saving us $3.5 million this year and we agreed to that in October, when new employee contracts were signed.”
Righeimer doesn’t see a sacrifice by the employees in October, when they agreed to pay more into their pensions and extended their contracts for up to four years.
“If they hadn’t gotten those, we would be in negotiations,” he said. “Other than what they’ve said, they did not do it out of the goodness of their hearts. They did it to lock in contracts.”